Exclusive book excerpt: 'Courage to Soar' by Simone Biles
Excerpted from "Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance" by Simone Biles, Copyright © 2016 by Simone Biles. Used by permission of Zondervan, www.zondervan.com.
From Chapter 19: The Final Five
... [On] Tuesday, August 9, our team did exactly what we had been training for so many years to do: We performed almost flawless routines and won team gold. If the all-around win was considered to be the jewel in the crown, the team medal was the crown itself -- the main reason we were there. On the podium afterward, feeling the heavy gold disc around my neck, I felt so privileged to be standing with my teammates. All I could think was, Wow, we did it. How long have I dreamed about this? We were so happy for each other and for ourselves, but our job was only half over. The all-around competition and the event finals were still to come. I wasn't anywhere near finished trying to make my family and my country proud.
That afternoon, we told Martha that we'd named ourselves the Final Five as a tribute to her. When we explained how we'd all agreed on the name, she dabbed the corners of her eyes and said in her thick accent, "Oh my God, I love you guys even more now!" And she hugged us tightly. The rest of the afternoon and evening was a whirl of press interviews and photo ops, and then it was home to our little pod in the Olympic Village. We all fell right into bed, because we had to be up for our regular eight a.m. training the next morning. Before going to sleep, I carefully folded the green multicolored ribbon around my medal and put it at the bottom of my backpack. Later, they would give us sleek wooden cases to hold our medals, but for now, my makeshift storage would have to do.
"Can you believe we actually did it?" Laurie whispered, stifling a yawn before we drifted off. "We're not just Olympians now; we're gold medalists."
I was too exhausted from happiness to answer, so I just smiled. But when I awoke the next morning, I wasn't quite sure if the day before had all been a dream. I reached for my backpack and pulled out the medal, just to be sure. I unrolled the green ribbon and placed the gold disc in the palm of my hand, feeling its distinctive weight as I sent up a silent prayer of gratitude.
Thursday morning, the day of the Olympic all-around competition, dawned bright and clear. The apartment was silent when I opened my eyes. The rest of the girls except for Aly had already gone to breakfast. From there they would head to the training hall. Later, they would be in the gymnastics arena to see Aly and me battle it out with the best in the world for the coveted all-around title.
I went to find Aly. She was in her room and still in bed. "I feel so good about today," I told her.
"Me too," she said, holding up one hand for a fist bump.
"We're so prepared. I have a really good feeling."
My heart was galloping in my chest, but it wasn't nerves; it was excitement. I could hardly wait to get into the arena. Aly and I each showered and then we did our hair and makeup together in the living room. We took our time because the competition wouldn't begin until the early afternoon. I outlined my eyes in gold glitter and chose a nude lipstick instead of a bold one. The eye makeup, with my usual winged corners, was dramatic enough, and my sparkly leo would complete the effect. The night before, we'd chosen the leos we wanted to wear and laid them out on our beanbag chairs. Aly had opted for the shiny red with lines of crystals fanning out from the neckline like bursts of sunlight, while I'd selected a super patriotic number with sheer white crystal-studded sleeves, and dazzling red-and-white stripes running from the shoulders down both sides, framing a high-sheen blue fabric dotted with glittering stars. I'd saved this leotard, my favorite, for the all-around. I hoped its shimmer would help me win gold.
I was already feeling incredibly happy to be sharing this day with Aly, who was such a rock-solid competitor and friend. As we walked to the bus that would take us to the arena, we held hands like schoolgirls and bobbed our heads to the music coming through our headphones. Every so often we'd hug each other and say, "You're good. You've worked so hard. You deserve to be here. You've got this." And then we'd say, "I love you so much. I love you, no matter what. Today will be a good day."
Our warm-up in the training hall went without a hitch or a fall, and then it was show time. Before we walked out to compete, we always used the bathroom just in case. As I washed my hands and stared at my face in the mirror, my stomach was suddenly doing somersaults. I plopped down on a bench that was just outside the bathroom and tried to pull myself together. A few moments later, Aly walked out and sat down beside me. When she leaned her head back against the wall, I noticed she looked really pale.
"Are you okay?" I said.
She shook her head from left to right.
"Are you okay?" she asked me.
"No," I said. "I feel like I'm going to throw up."
The two of us sat there for several minutes, breathing slowly and trying to settle ourselves down.
"We're okay," I said after a while.
"We've got this," Aly said.
"We can do this."
"We've done this so many times."
"I love you, Aly."
"I love you, Simone."
We did another fist bump and walked out onto the arena floor.
"Courage to Soar" releases on Tuesday, order your copy here.